Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2014

2014 has been another bumper year for synthpop releases, but it’s also been a year where quantity has often ruled over quality: 2014 saw many, many decent synthpop singles and albums released throughout the year, but only a small handful have had that “wow” factor. The big-hitter artists – old-school classic bands who’ve seen such a resurgence in the past few years – were largely absent this year (with one big exception), so it was left to the young upstarts to carry the synthpop flame.

While Taylor Swift gave us her kid-friendly spin on synthpop with her hugely successful 1989 album, the underground synthpop sub-genre known as synthwave saw a massive rise in popularity. This post-Drive style has its roots firmly planted in synthpop, so I felt duty-bound to give it due consideration when coming up with this Top 20.

So here then are what I thought were the best synthpop albums of 2014: 20 albums of excellence that I think you’ll enjoy if electronic music is your thing! Of course, you might disagree with me; surprised to see there’s no representation from Client, Röyksopp, Future Islands, La Roux, or Gazelle Twin. Those are all good bands with some great songs this year (see The Electricity’s Clubs 20 Songs of 2014 for many of these), but for this Top 20 I concentrated on complete albums that gave me that joyous tingle that only quality synthpop and electronica can do.

So let’s get started!


Top 20 Synthpop Albums


vogonSweden’s Vogon Poetry were not what I was expecting at all. Given the Hitchhikers references, I was expecting some kind of novelty record, twee and with deliberately dreadful lyrics. But Don’t Panic is something else: it’s actually a rather good synthpop album! Mixing in elements of Erasure and S.P.O.C.K, Vogon Poetry’s music may often be on the lighter, poppier side of synthpop but they’re never frivolous. Indeed, tracks like “Land of Forever” and “In Darkness Lost Again” have a solemnity that’s quite poignant. And while the album is sometimes a bit rough around the edges, there’s still plenty to enjoy here.

Recommended: The Diceman, Dream Dream Dream, Driven (Never Be Here Again)

  • Emmon – Aon

emmonAon is Emmon‘s fourth album and sees her showing no lack of creative energy. The Swedish queen of electropop riffs around the scandi-synthpop template that made her name, but this time adding elements of chiptune, hauntronica, futurepop and a little italo-disco into the mix. Bronski Beat seem to be an influence too, ironically more so on “Felix Baumgartner” than on the (competent but imo rather obvious) cover of “Smalltown Boy”. Aon is Emmon’s most varied album, but there’s still a cohesion that makes for a fine slice of expertly produced synthpop.

Recommended: Protected Lies, Pitch Black, Spoket, Alive

aptFollowing their earlier collaboration on an album of A-ha covers, Jon Russell (aka Jonteknik) and Martyn Bailey joined forces again to release Energy, Light and Darkness at the start of the year. Don’t be put off by the cheap looking album cover: there are riches inside. Over the 40-minute runtime you’ll hear 10 songs of smooth, crisp synthpop, all but one featuring Martyn’s falsetto tones. Callbacks to OMD, Pet Shop Boys, and even Tubeway Army are apparent, and it’s clear that this duo show a lot of promise for the future.

Recommended: At Night I Come Alive, Changing Lanes, Pendulum

neuropaAustralia’s Neuropa have released a fair few albums in their career, but seem to have never quite cracked the European market. I’ve followed them for a few years now and I think Resistor is their finest album yet and sure to win them new fans. With its gorgeous cover art, solid vocals and clutch of good songs, this album oozes new-wave synthpop quality. The Depeche Mode/Erasure sound is still there, but Resistor brings a futurepop edge in the vein of And One and the older Covenant albums.

Recommended: Americana, The End, Pain

  • Daily Planet – Two

dailyplanetIf you like your synthpop bright and uncluttered, then this album is surely for you. Swedish duo Daily Planet clearly adore Yazoo – just take a look at the video for Nobody’s Friend (filmed “Downstairs at Alfred’s”) – and take a listen to that gorgeous melody! Anyone can try to ape that sound of course, but Daily Planet have the song-writing chops to back them up. Two has just the right balance of slow-tempo vs. more dancey numbers, lending it the variety that other pretenders to Vince Clarke’s throne lack.

Recommended: Nobody’s Friend, Forgiven, Afraid

sleepDublin’s Sleep Thieves shimmer awake with You Want the Night, a disco-noir delight of analogue electro with new wave sensibilities. Singer Sorcha Brennan has the looks of Curxe‘s Roberta Fidora and a voice part Enya, part Katie Stelmanis. Her breathy, enchanting styling perfectly fits the discotronic pulse that beats throughout this dreamy, fairy-tale of an album.

Recommended: City of Hearts, Sparks, French Kiss

nocarrierCynthia Wechselberger and keyboardist/producer Chris Wirsig’s third album is a theatrical affair. Maybe its Wechselberger’s crooning vocals (halfway between Kate Bush and Future Perfect‘s Rebecca Owen), the thematically linked lyrics, or Wirsig’s evocative songwriting; whatever, listening to this rewarding album gives you a feeling of attending some kind of vaudevillian cabaret. With one big exception (the shockingly out-of-place R&B/rap of “Let Me Walk Alone”), each song is a reflective vignette, beautifully crafted to evoke contemplation, introspection, and little feelings of desperation. All wrapped up in gorgeous cover art, Wisdom & Failure is a curiosity well-worth sitting through to the finale.

Recommended: Confession, Sunset Castle, Last Scene, Wisdom And Failure

arghWith the most ungoogleable name in this Top 20, Norway’s Argh are nevertheless well worth tracking down. Reminiscent of classic 90s German synthpop acts like Wolfsheim, Beborn Beton and De/Vision, Night in the City bounces along with style and confidence that belies the fact that this is Argh’s debut release. While Andreas Rønbeck and Glenn Henriksen take it in turns on lead vocals, a few songs have a female backing vocalist and this really enriches the sound: I wish they’d used her more! Nevertheless, this an impressive debut that only gets better with repeated plays.

Recommended: Absence, Night in the City, Cheating Bird, Higher Love

  • Iamamiwhoami – Blue

iamStarting with “Fountain” back in January, each song that makes up Iamamiwhoami‘s 3rd album Blue has been released separately as a digital single. This gives the album a kind of Greatest Hits feel, as only the final three songs were new to me when I first played the album. An aquatic theme flows throughout this dreamy and soothing and sometimes murky album. From the Chvrches-esque “Vista” to the “Land ahoy!” moments on “Blue Blue“, here finally is an Iamamiwhoami album with coherency and an armada of good, almost mainstream pop songs.

Recommended: Vista, Blue Blue, Chasing Kites

machinistaHere we have an album cover that says “witch house”, and a name that says darkwave or goth. But Machinista‘s debut album Xenoglossy is in fact a glorious slab of euro-synthpop, with the spirit of Alphaville and Robert Smith the most obvious reference points. The first half of the album bounces along joyfully, every track a toe-tapper complete with some of the catchiest melodies heard this year. One half of the Machinista duo is Richard Flow (formerly of Pansentient League favorites Vision Talk) and it’s great to hear him again. My initial impression of Machinista wasn’t completely off: lyrically, some of these songs do have a darker tone, such as on the thanatophobic “Pushing the Angels Astray”. Closing with a wonderful synthetic reinterpretation of Bowie’s “Heroes”, Xenoglossy is a fabulous synthpop album that speaks my language from start to finish.

Recommended: Take Comfort in Being Sad, Arizona Lights, Pushing the Angels Astray, Crash


Top 10 Synthpop Albums

Ten great albums there – but here are my absolute favorites of the year!

perturbatorThe past year has seen a plethora of instrumental synthwave music, all emulating that neon-glowing, synth-throbbing “futuristic” 80s sound. A lot of it, it must be said, is pretty bland and derivative but there are two artists in particular who stand out from the crowd. The first is Carpenter Brut, who’s made some fantastic videos paying homage to Takashi Ishii and the Dario Argento giallo scene. The second is Perturbator, the techno-demented “Half Human, Half Synthesizer” alter-ego of James Kent.

Dangerous Days is dripping with dark John Carpenter retrofuturistism and comes across like some manic satanic alternative soundtrack to The Terminator. Not that it’s full-throttle all the way though: there are some lighter moments on this amazing concept album and even some vocals (courtesy of collaborations with Dead Astronauts (see below) and Memory Ghost‘s Isabella Goloversic). Perturbator might be a little too extreme for many a synthpop fan, but if you like electro-industrial, darkwave, or even heavy metal then Dangerous Days could well become your album-of-the-year.

Recommended: Perturbator’s Theme, Hard Wired, She Is Young…, Satanic Rites

trustTrust‘s first album seemed to be everyone’s favorite debut when it came out a couple of years ago. It didn’t really do it for me though, so I came to Joyland with some reservations. And what an improvement! Now a solo affair, Trust’s Robert Alfons has made an immersive slab of goth-infused electronica. From the pulsating, ethereal intro of “Slightly Floating” to the melodious synthpop of “Joyland” and “Icabod“, this album is bursting with depth. Alfons’ vocal dexterity (you’re left thinking there are several lead vocalists but it’s just one guy) provides variety, character, and just a touch of eerie creepiness.

RecommendedCapitol, Joyland, Icabod

myempireSwedish/Danish duo My Empire of Sound seem to have come out of nowhere with this, an indie gem of an album that mixes synthpop with classical guitar and other “real” instruments. “Feeling electric…” purrs lead vocalist Sidsel Marie Søholm on single “In a Perfect World,” a wonderful scandi-pop song that brings to mind both Fever Ray and a radioactivitat Kraftwerk. The dreamy title track is another highlight, while “Autobahn Lullaby” has a wistfulness reminiscent of Glasgow indie band Camera Obscura. Fans of post-Ultra era Depeche Mode should also find much to like here: The Confession of the Machines is a serious album with gravitas and depth that perfectly mixes electronic and acoustic instruments. I expect great things from My Empire of Sound, which is why I nominated them as Most Promising New Act on The Electricity Club’s 2014 End of Year Review.

RecommendedIn a Perfect World, The Confession of the Machines, Waiting for a Lover

colouroidThe slightly ironically titled Long Play (the runtime is only 30 minutes) is Colouroïd‘s superb debut album, offering 8 tracks of marvellously mutated minimal wave. Singer Ella Moe shimmers above and around the cold wave synths, with an edgy underground attitude sometimes reminiscent of the late great Trish Keenan (check out “Pillow Fort” for example). Self-funded, self-promoted and self-released, Long Play is the epitome of quality DIY synth music and comes highly recommended.

Recommended: Gang, Winter’s Here, TV People, Pillow Fort

fluxfinEver aware of the importance of googleability, former Finnish trio Flux re-branded themselves as Flux Fin, brought in vocalist Karoliina Karppinen, and proceeded to release one of the best synthpop albums of the year. “Never Weight Me Down” is minimal electro that gently introduces the album: it’s the only track that’s not quite instantly memorable: from “Radio Liberty” onwards, every song here is an electronic delight. Lead single “Cold Shiver” is a warmer song than its title suggests, while the wonderful “Light Bulb” is full of low-BPM spark, kinda Construction-era Mode. “Let Your Body Roll” spins things around with some hi-NRG beats, before “All Out” delivers some of the promised grit. I love these guys and just don’t get why they’re not as popular on the synthpop scene as they should be.

Recommended: Cold Shiver, Light Bulb, Let Your Body Roll

deadastroDead Astronauts seem to have been adopted by synthwave followers as one of their own (probably due to the Perturbator collaborations), but it fact Constellations is first and foremost a synthpop album and one of the best releases of the year. Their blend of lo-fi new wave from an alternate universe is minimal but often surprisingly upbeat, and the variety of synthpop sub-genres on display means you never get bored. But most of all it’s the fabulous male + female vocals that raise Dead Astronauts above the rest: Jared Kyle channels Dead Can Dance‘s Brendan Perry (with a touch of Nick Cave), while Hayley Stewart brings an essential delicate counterpoint to this wonderful album.

Recommended: These Bones, Weathered Wolves, Parallel Universes, The Pier

erasureI fell out of love with Erasure decades ago, sorry to say, with only 2005’s Nightbird bringing some slight reprise. So my expectations for The Violet Flame were pretty low. But then I heard several friends on Facebook saying how good it was, that Richard X was involved, that it was their best in years… so I gave it a proper listen and was amazed: yes, it really is as good as they say! Like the Pet Shop Boys did last year with Electric, Erasure have made an upbeat, dance-friendly, stomper of an electronic album that’s a joy to listen to from start to finish. From the club-synthpop opener “Dead of Night” through to closing torch song “Stayed a Little Late Tonight“, even the more laid-back “Be the One” and “Smoke and Mirrors” are both still fabulous pop songs. Andy Bell is on top form here and every song has some earwormingly catchy hook or melody: welcome back Vince!

Recommended: All of it!

lecassetteLe Cassette‘s debut album is retro English synthpop at its best: unapologetically 80s, Left to Our Own Devices leaves the synthwave pack behind thanks to its authentic production and the gorgeous croonings of vocalist Adam McNab. Sometimes like Brian Ferry, sometimes Scott Walker – there’s even a hint of Sulk-era Billy Mackenzie in there. It’s easy to overdose on nostalgia (and trust me, listening to too much of the mediocre synthwave out there can be soul-destroying), but this album is a superb exception. “Digital Power” is my favorite single song of the year: I’m sure it would have been number one for weeks had it come out in 1983. A few songs don’t quite do it for me – “Magnifique” for example – but any 15-track album is bound to have our or two skippers. Le Cassette could be the natural successors to much-missed bands Hoboken and Mirrors: a good, modern synthpop band that gets the vocals so right is such a rare thing.

Recommended: All of it!

electricyouthYou will remember Electric Youth from the Drive soundtrack and the utterly sumptuous track “A Real Hero”. That song closes Innerworld, the Canadian duos debut album. Here is an album full of soothing electro-ballads and shimmering electropop, drenched in nostalgia and youthful optimism. Bronwyn Griffin and Austin Garrick took their time making this album and it shows: the running order is perfect and every track throbs quality and attention, awash with dreamy analog synths and Bronwyn’s breathy, innocent delivery. The stripped-back “If All She Has Is You” is one of many highlights, a Human League Mk I-meets-Enya style cover of John McGlynn’s achingly beautiful lament.

Innerworld is album to blissfully slide into senescence with: it’s quite probably the most comforting collection of songs I’ve ever heard, and certainly close to The Best Thing to grace the synth scene this year.

Recommended: All of it!


Pansentient League’s Album of the Year!

Here is the album I’ve loved more than any other in 2014:

tikklemeTikkle Me are an all-female electronic pop-art collective who deserve way more attention outside their native Sweden than they seem to get. I’ve been a fan since I first heard their 2009 EP Butterflies In My Tummy and loved all three singles that preceded the release of their sophomore LP What is Real. This album is littered with gorgeous melodies and feminist-themed lyrics, delivered with knowing innocence by lead singer Frida Herchenröther. Third single “Genius” is just that: a moment of genius pop and a perfect introduction to Tikkle Me’s quirky playfulness with hidden depth; once you dig deeper, most songs tend to reveal a level of intelligence and serious artistry often missing from synthpop. And although it’s hard to categorise Tikkle Me – vocally there’s a touch of Kate Bush, musically there are occasional strings and other orchestrals – this is still synthpop, and synthpop of the finest kind. What is Real is a superb album to find both joy and strength from, be you boy, girl, or undecided. Of course, being Scandinavian there’s a touch of chilly sorrowfulness here (on the song “Cliffhanger” for example), but on the whole Tikkle Me is a sisterhood bursting with hope and optimism and damn fine pop songs. Absolutely my album of the year!

Recommended: All of it!

UPDATE: Read my extended review on The Electricity Club!


Spotify Playlist

Our Pansentient Synthpop series of Spotify playlists has been running for 6 six years now, with this year’s edition being the longest playlist yet! Here’s over 250 quality synthpop songs for your listening pleasure,  including all of the artists mentioned above and many many more besides:

And don’t you ever forget: SYNTHPOP’S ALIVE! 

Why I Love Spotify and Think You Should Too

A couple of years ago I was helping out at an electropop night in London and got chatting with Rusty Egan, DJ and maestro behind 80s synthpop legends Visage. I mentioned that I wrote a blog about Spotify and he was perplexed. Not because he didn’t know what Spotify was – the music-streaming service had already started to enter the mainstream psyche – but he couldn’t see how someone could dedicate a blog to it.

“Well, there’s a lot of misconceptions and rumours about Spotify,” I started. “And most folk like us, who grew up with vinyl, don’t seem to ‘get’ it. It’s a harder sell if you’re used to owning music instead of renting it.”

Rusty looked at me quizzically.

“But what do you write about?” he asked. “Why do you think Spotify is so great?”

So this is what I told him:


Supporting the Artists

why1There was a story that broke at the end of 2009 about how Lady Gaga had only received a paltry £108 return from over a million streams of her single “Poker Face” on Spotify. This was reported with alarming frequency, and used to prove how much of a rip-off Spotify was for the artists. Many bands declared their disgust and intention to remove their music from the service ASAP. Here was “proof” that streaming music services were doomed to fail.

But some simple fact-checking showed that this figure was way off the mark.

The £108 Gaga figure was in fact only a fraction of the total payment to her label (it was to STIM, the Swedish collection society: payments are also paid to publishers and to the artist’s record company), and it was only for a short period of time in one country after Spotify had just launched.

Five years later, I still get this thrown at me as evidence that Spotify rips off struggling artists. I point out that it’s not as if before Spotify came along, record labels were there solely for the benefit of artists: of course not. Music is a business just like it’s always been. The men-in-suits have always taken a huge slice of the pie. The artist’s cut has always been small, way before Spotify came along. The difference is that now for the first time, artists have the chance to regain a bit of control, to re-direct some of the returns Spotify hands out. Indie bands can use Spotify as a platform to publish their music directly, without the need for a label or artist management.

So artists now potentially have a much larger cut of the total income than pre-Spotify. And if they don’t want to receive the endless trickle of cash from music streaming services, the “take my stuff off of Spotify” process is so easy it’s practically a single-click.

Spotify themselves are still a relatively young business that’s only just turned a profit in 2013 (in the UK at least). Despite impressive user stats, globally there’s still not enough people prepared to pay the monthly fee. But things are changing fast. According to the BPI, streaming music services generated £103m of revenues in the UK in 2013 (around 10% of overall UK recorded music revenues). Spotify say they’re now generating more revenue each month than iTunes, at least in Europe.

Spotify’s website for artists ( claims that over 70% of their revenue goes straight back to rights holders, so it’s clear that some artists can and have made a killing from streaming services. Of course there’s a question of scale: rich bands get richer but smaller bands cannot hope to make a living from streaming services alone. For them, Spotify is more of a way to get their music heard, to entice potential fans who wouldn’t have bought a CD or a download to maybe come along to a gig instead.

The bottom line is this: to support an artist, you should go to their gigs and buy their CDs and merchandise and special-edition re-releases. But then when you get home, listen to the band on Spotify so that they continue to receive a little bit of cash each time you play one of their songs.

Comparing revenues for artists from streaming music services like Spotify with download “unit sale” models like iTunes just doesn’t make sense. That’s like comparing a TV show’s viewing figures with its DVD sales. A better comparison is with radio plays or YouTube hits. While these both currently exceed Spotify in terms of listener figures, the pay-out for a play on Spotify is far greater compared with both radio and YouTube.


The Collectors (Ownership vs. Rental)

why2Like any other middle-class middle-aged man, I like to collect things. With the march of time my boxes of vinyl have given way to bookcases full of CDs and DVDs, in turn succumbing to hard drives bulging with WAVs and FLACs and MP3s that I’d meticulously organise and tag and label.

When I discovered Spotify at the start of 2009, one of the first things I did was to take photos of my carefully organised CDs then use HTML to link up the images to Spotify. I used an “image map” to link each CD spine to the corresponding album on Spotify. I could then web-browse my collection “visually” in the by-genre organisation I’d created over the years. Despite a few gaps (no Beatles, no Rammstein etc.) it worked pretty well as a digital interface to my real-world-collection.

Then a few months later I sold most of my CDs, deleted all those MP3s and switched to the rental model of Spotify entirely.

And I’ve never looked back.

There’s a common argument against the music rental model that goes along the lines of: “What if I stop paying for Spotify, all those albums (playlists) I’ve collected will be lost! If I’d bought the CD instead I’d still have them.” This is true to a degree, but don’t forget that even if you move back to “free” Spotify, your playlists remain: they’re never deleted. Worrying about “lost” artefacts (i.e. the physical CD) is a vestigial angst that you’ll soon get over.

Despite my middle-agedness I’m still a rapacious consumer of new music, so Spotify’s tenner a month is saving me heaps. I do still buy CDs at gigs (see above), but mostly now I just swim in Spotify’s stream of music, with access all areas. Just like the television license required to view BBC content or a Netflix subscription, Spotify’s pay-to-access model provides vast choice to suit all tastes. For me, gone are the days of ripping CDs, backing up WAVs and tagging MP3s. What a waste of time all that was!

But even now I do still “own” one type of music-related digital artefact that’s very precious to me: my playlists.


The Playlist is the Mixtape

The modern version of a mixtape is the Spotify playlist. Just like a mixtape, a Spotify playlist is a form of expression that can display its own ingenuity and diversity, made for my-ears-only or sometimes for that one special person. Spotify lets me choose the songs in the mix and the song placement and the shareability: I can keep it to myself or I can share it with the entire world if I like.

I often spend days crafting the perfect playlist. I’ve made Spotify playlists that try to tell the story of my life (or a special weekend or a love affair); others that soundtrack my science-fiction stories, and others that spotlight new synthpop releases to my blog followers. My playlist “Music Inspired by the Movie Drive” has around 25,000 subscribers and every few days I get a random message from someone saying “Thanks for your playlists!” I’m no musician so this is perhaps the closest I’ll get to having “fans”. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction when one of my playlists goes viral, something I could never have imagined happening in the past with that boxful of C90s.

So the joy of a home-made mix has not been killed by the arrival of streaming music services: far from it.


Music of Quality and Distinction

You probably know someone like me, a guy who’s listened to too much music for too long. Who has tinnitus – a permanent ringing in the ears. Mine came on at a gig by the awesome band Broadcast at King Tut’s in Glasgow, 2001. I was standing right next to the speaker stack for the show’s duration, and it was a time when the band were going through their “experimental feedback” phase.

You live and learn.

But despite this aural handicap, I still like to spend a little bit extra on my audio gear and sneer down at the 128kbps-toting teens and their white lead earbuds. The limit of human hearing is 20kHz and I know I’m some way down from that, but I can still appreciate good audio quality nonetheless. So the first thing I do when I install Spotify is to ramp up the default Music Quality setting to “Extreme Quality.” This delivers music in an Ogg Vorbis(ish) format at better-than-320kbps MP3 compression, ripped from label masters with gapless playback and crossfade options.

For me that’s quality enough.



why3Soulseek, Kazaa, Suprnova, eDonkey, OiNK. The Pirate Bay. What all these shady download tools had in common was ease-of-use and convenience. When pirating an album was quicker and easier than buying it, that’s a huge temptation, especially when you’re strapped for cash. I know a heck of a lot of people who were tempted that way.

But then Spotify came along and changed the rules. With a peer-to-peer backbone (just like the Pirate Bay) and Swedish chops (just like the Pirate Bay), Spotify made it even easier to get your music: you search, you press play, you sit back and listen. Now there wasn’t even the need to wait for the download to finish (and sort and tag and add album art). The music was there instantly! This convenience trumped piracy: Spotify Free was a game-changer and people still downloading illegal MP3s are both wasting their time and living in the past.

Step One of Spotify’s gameplan was to shift the pirates to a controlled, legal system that gave something back to the artists. Not a lot at first of course, since it takes premium subscribers and their £10/month to grow Spotify’s royalty payments. And it’s a lot easier to shift mindsets from free-to-free compared with from free-to-paid.

Step Two i.e. getting users to pay a little bit for all that music is an ongoing goal that for all our sakes I hope succeeds. Because otherwise, for many it will be back to the Bay and all that clawed back revenue for the industry will have been lost again.



But really when it comes down to it, the most important thing for me is music availability. I want my music right here, right now.

For all intents and purposes, Spotify lets me access all the world’s music (except for AC/DC, Radiohead, a few others). Today they have 36 million tracks that I can stream instantly to my main hi-fi system, to my phone, my tablet, my car… my playlists are always with me and always available.

Most new albums arrive on Spotify on the day of release, and because I “follow” the bands I like, Spotify sends me a message whenever there’s a new release.

And if I do happen to get bored of the music, I can always trawl Spotify’s vast catalogue of audio drama, comedy & stand-up, language courses, self-help audiobooks, sound effect albums, classic speeches… all the audio I could want is always and instantly available to me through Spotify.


Fade to Grey

why4Music is one of the most important things in the world to me. It’s in my “Top 5 Things I Could Not Live Without” list and it’s probably not far behind air/food/water. I’ve lived long enough to see a fair few format changes, and so I’ve bought many favourite albums multiple times. But now I’ve finally left the mediums behind me: now it’s just about the music.

I told Rusty Egan that I’d bought some Visage albums on vinyl back in the day. He nodded and gave me a cursory smile.

I then told him that I’d added some Visage songs to my “Golden Hour of Synthpop” playlist on Spotify, a playlist that had a few hundred followers and growing.

His smile widened to reveal those pearly whites of his.

“Oh,” he said, “that’s pretty good. Thanks very much!”

I’m glad Rusty’s music is on Spotify. For me that means it’ll never fade away and is always just one click away.



Interview with DeepHouseHQ

The Fastest Way To Get Quality Deep House Out Now –  GUARANTEED!” That’s a bold claim made by DeepHouseHQ, a Spotify-friendly blog that specialises in deep house, chill-out, and other related sub-genres of electronic music. Site owner Pov Vysniauskas kindly spared some time to let us know what his site is all about.

Over to you Pov!

How did your site get its name?


Since the start of the blog (2010) I have changed its name several times. The first name we had was, but that was more an impulsive spontaneous decision influenced by few pints of beer and some friends. A lot has changed since then… speaking about how much I know about SEO, marketing, the music world…. having said that, choosing the current version of the name was more a strategic decision and involved analysis of search engine optimisation as well as analysis of our content and our targeted  crowd.  We needed something clear, obvious and still catchy so the recent name change to DeepHouseHQ  came as a best solution.

 How long has your site been running for?

We have been in the music market for quite a while. I started the deep house music blog when I was at my first year of university with the intention to share deep house playlists and other music I liked with some of like-minded friends. Since then, the blog became one of my addictions and it went through many changes in design, functionality and content as well as targeted audience. Sometimes, honestly my free time starts and finishes online.

 What styles of music do you cover?

We fall under the label of electronic music, actually to be precise and more specific  90% of our music is deep house. The rest falls under titles such as deep tech-house, chill-out and minimal. A lot of influence on our shared music has artists,  music labels and  DJs like Darkside, Noir music, Rembo music, Solumun and Nicolas Jaar.

 What makes different from other blogs?

I believe we present ourselves with a sense of humour: that’s one of the main  differentiators. It is really important to us that we differentiate ourselves from other deep house music blogs. That said, we  relate our name with quality deep house,  a sense of humour and blog posts with nice pictures to compliment the articles. We want the deeephousehq blog to be not only a place for your ears, but also “heaven for your eyes” too.

So the image we are trying to develop here are more or less reflecting young and progressive people. We also are very selective on the music we post and if you’re listening  to any  playlist, track or mix on our site that means that music has our stamp of approval.

Why do you blog?

Solomun - Love Recycled 1 (Original Mix)

Music is part of my life, and sharing my music taste is a hobby which makes me really happy. Blogging combines a number of my interests together in one  place. After countless hours of work it became a big part of me; it’s a really nice feeling to see the positive comments and get a chance to work with DJs I like. I blog because I love to share music and it’s a great opportunity to learn a lot about branding, blogging and SEO. I have already learned tons and I have enjoyed all my time on this blog. Deep House HQ to me is a game, a hobby, a way to express my thoughts and a place to learn new things.

Do you have other blog contributors?

Yes!  Though I take the lead and decisions for  blog development, to do everything on my own would be too much! My team includes IT/ Technical support  which is done by my brother Martynas, an  IT architect. Logo Design is done by one of my good university friends Deividas, who studies graphic design. And finally some of the content and music is provided by my mate Mack. These guys helped a lot in different ways, and helped push the blog forward, especially Mack and my brother.

How do you decide what to write about?

98% of our content is written on the spot while listening to a track. I would say most of the content is based on emotions, recent experiences and adventures. The rest are pre-planned articles written by freelance writers.

jaarWho are your favorite bands and artists?

My music style is based on deep house, acid-jazz, chill-out and minimal  so it is very hard to list names. I would say my favourite DJs and music labels would  be: Sasha, Noir music, Darkside, Nicholas Jaar, Zabiela and Solumun.

 Name a band you love that no one else seems to have heard of

Well, this is a very good question! We recently published an article featuring Top 100 deep house tracks  that no one else seems to have heard of , a lot of the music there are produced by unknown bands/ music producers but my favourite though is Nicolas Jaar.


Many thanks to Povilas Vysniauskas for taking the time to answer our questions. Check out his site at!

Interview with Indiekingss

indieIndiekingss is a new Spotify-centered blog about indie music. Site owner Ryan Freeman got in touch to tell us about the site, so I persuaded him to tell us some more…

How did your site get its name?

Well, I picked up the name Indiekingss when I started sharing music on tumblr, but I couldn’t seem to gain much traction in getting attention. I still use tumblr all the time, but not for sharing music. Nevertheless, the name lived on, and made it to my full website. The name was a good fit, because it sends a straightforward message about what you can expect to find on our site. The name also plays on the fact that most indie fans want to be the best hipster they can be. They want to know as many talented, underground, and unheard of bands as possible. It’s up for our readers to decide whether we are throwing down the gauntlet, or just being facetious. Lastly, it’s a little bit obnoxious, so it’s easy to remember.

How long has your site been running for?

We’re essentially a newborn baby blog, we only got started in mid-October 2013! When my friend and I got started, we decided to use WordPress as our web design tool; It has given us tons of flexibility, and that decision also allowed me to focus primarily on generating content. We’ve tried really hard to pack our site with articles and playlists,  so visitors can explore as much as they like, and not hit dead ends! It has  been a busy few months for us, and we’ve got some big plans for the future! In the short term, we’ve got plans to do online interviews with Hotel Cinema, The Zolas, Kid Runner, Young Liars, and Slow Runner. Writing that last sentence is mind-boggling for me, because those are some of my truly favorite bands right now!

What styles of music do you cover?


I think most of the genres covered on our site fall under the umbrella of either indie rock or indie pop, but more specifically: electro, synthpop, post-punk, lo-fi… I could go on all day with that list, but honestly I dislike this part where we dissect these bands and squeeze them  into universal categories. I would rather group songs together by what sounds good while you’re driving or working out. So if you’re still curious to know what kind of music would be covered on our blog here’s a few rules: 1) If a band has rock or pop influences were going to give it a listen. 2) If the band is in anyway influenced by the 70’s or 80’s well try them out. 3) Lastly, and most importantly,  if a band is idiosyncratic or obscure then we’ll write about them.

What makes Indiekingss different from other blogs?

It is really important to us that we differentiate ourselves from other indie music blogs and outlets. I mean, were primarily fans of musicians that explore different routes in music, so it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for us to have a conventional blog about them. With that being said, there are a few things that make us different from the normal music blog. Firstly, we take a different stance in the indie music community then most blogs. We are all about keeping the momentum behind the artists we love, and we gravitate toward the little guys. Our goal is to promote as many talented underdogs as possible.

Secondly, we’ve yet to tear anyone down for making music we don’t like. That doesn’t make any sense. So instead, we just ignore them. If you’re reading about a band on our site that means they have our stamp of approval.

Thirdly, we put together massive themed playlists that range all the way from 25 Songs You Might Listen to if You Were Flying on a Unicorn to The Best Songs of 2013. Obviously, the former is the one that makes us different from other indie music blogs, not the latter,  to more specifically answer your question.

Why do you blog?

zolasI always find myself reaching out to friends and sharing music with them. I think my friends and I have a lot to offer anyone that wants to be a part of our community. Particularly when it comes to bouncing songs and playlists around on Spotify. I want to create a situation where I can publish a playlist in an article and generate a good discussion about artists that deserve to be included. However, I primarily blog because I have a vision for a clique that will help spread the word about artists they love and help me get the best of the best off the ground. It takes a lot of courage and commitment to start a band and generate any kind of following. Often it’s the bands that have less than 1,000 fans that want it the most and because of internet things like blogs, anyone can help them out! It’s not like you have to drive to a record store and pick out one or two albums you want, then go home and put them on your 8-track. It’s easier than ever to give musicians a chance, and my blog is specifically designed to provide publicity where we see fit. We obviously do all kinds of other fun things too!

Do you have other blog contributors?

Yes I do! Many of my friends have written at least one article and admittedly most of them are better writers than me. But, I work with two people who regularly contribute to the website. One of them is a content creator and the other is a web designer. I wouldn’t have been able to make my vision a reality without them.

How do you decide what to write about?

kidrunnerWe typically focus on three different types of articles: features and interviews from our favorite bands, articles about themed playlists such as 10 Songs Indie Kids Can Twerk To, and classic articles that cover our favorite songs, bands and albums over a specific period of time. We try to mix it up and we are willing to write about anything that seems interesting. Just to reiterate, we are only a few months old, so we are not trying to put up too many stringent rules about what we are willing or not willing to cover.

Do you plan out your posts in advance?

Up until I started this project, I had never creatively written anything, so planning and organizing posts plays a major role in covering up my inexperience; that and making jokes every now and again. It also takes a ton of planning to organize some of the playlists that we put together. At any given time, I’m working on 5-10 playlists for future articles. I mean, I’ll be working on my Best of 2014 playlist all year, but even more unconventional playlists take a ton of time to put together.

How do you approach reviewing an album?

As of right now, we haven’t reviewed any albums. We are sort of at an impasse about whether we ever want to review albums. When we started blogging, writing album reviews was definitely on our roadmap, but now that we’ve got around 30 articles under our belt, it’s starting to feel like we never will. There are a few reasons why we might never take that route: We can keep a 100% positive upbeat atmosphere if were not ripping on other people’s music. I don’t personally ever read album reviews. I decide for myself whether I like a certain album. I might read them after I’ve already formed my own opinion, but reviews rarely sway me one way or another. Sometimes, I read them just to disagree and comment with my own two cents, but like I said, I haven’t decided yet whether writing them for my own blog would be a worthwhile venture. Maybe if our regular readers requested that we do specific album reviews we could do that.

Who are your favorite bands and artists?

hotName a band you love that no one else seems to have heard of

Well, this is officially my favorite question of the interview! We recently published an article featuring 100 Underrated Bands, and while some of them are more popular than others, there is some truly undiscovered talent in that list. But, in the spirit of answering your question with one band I think Hot As Sun fits the bill. They are currently followed by 280 people on Spotify and their most popular song on Youtube, Night Time Sound Desire, has 991 views. That being said, they are badass and definitely deserve more attention.

Which review, interview or feature are you most proud of?

That’s a really tough question, because I’m proud of the various articles for different reasons. I’m going to go with the aforementioned 100 Underrated Bands. It takes a lot of work and time to put those together but in the end,  it felt the best to put that post up because I’m plugging so many of my favorite artists all at the same time. I’ve spoken to a few of our readers that have started to regularly listen to some of the artists on that playlist, so that makes it even more worthwhile!

Thanks very much for you time Ryan!

Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2013

So 2013 then: what another great year for music! Especially if you’re a fan of synthpop, electropop, new wave and the like. From classic-era heavyweights releasing career highlights (OMD, Pet Shop Boys, Alison Moyet) through to expectation-defying returns to form (Depeche Mode, Covenant) and dynamite debuts (CHVRCHES, Vile Electrodes), this past year has shown that the long-form album is still king.

You can listen to what I thought were the best songs of the year here:  Pansentient Synthpop 2013 Spotify playlist. This 200-track playlist has been curated to cut the crap and only present the finest selection. Compare that to Pansentient Synthpop 2009, when it was a struggle to even come up with a Top 40!

There’s been so much great music this year that it was sometimes a struggle to keep up. But if you’re looking for an opinion from someone who lives-and-breathes this stuff, first have a read at The Electricity Club’s End of Year Review 2013, and then check out my choices for the Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2013 below!


It’s Not Synthpop But I Like It

Before we begin, I must mention a few still-electronic-but-not-synthpop albums that I really got into this year:

  • shpongleShpongle – Museum of Consciousness. The best Shpongle album in over 10 years, this is a fantastic journey around the world of dreamy, tripadelic, psybience with a brain.
  • Container 90 – Working Class League. I couldn’t have hoped for more from this: EBM certainly has its limitations and can easily get repetitive, but these Swedes are the only EMBers who can bring something new to the table. Progressing the genre, they mix up social commentary, fuck-you attitude, lashings of humour, and exhausting danceability; all while seeming to have such a bloody good time of it too. There’s even a John Lennon cover here ffs!
  • Benji Vaughan – Even Tundra. The second great Twisted Records album of the year (after Shpongle), this is a beautiful slice of electro-ambience (but not the kind that sends you to sleep after 10 minutes).
  • ivardensphereFront Line Assembly – Echogenetic. What a kick-ass return! Over the decades, FLA have always merged in elements of the sound-de-jour into their music, but the light touches of dubstep here are a stroke of genius. This song “Deadened” is a killer tune, it could well be my song-of-the-year.
  • iVardensphere – The Methuselah Tree. I file iVardensphere in my “Electro-Industrial” folder in Spotify, but tbh these guys defy all classification. This album has to be experienced, it’s an electro-tribal imperative. After every listen I come away feeling that I’ve just experienced something deeply profound, something serious as shit that puts everything else into sharp perspective. I can barely begin to describe it, so instead go read this fascinating and insightful interview with Scott of Ivardensphere over at I Die: You Die.


Top 20 Synthpop Albums

Here’s my first batch of 10 albums:

  • befBritish Electric Foundation – MQD3. Martyn Ware – the godfather of synthpop – teams up with a whole host of star singers for some more music of quality and distinction. Mercifully dropping the funk of earlier outings, this album strips things back to darker synthetics. Covering songs from the 60s to 90s, MQD3 makes you re-appraise songs you didn’t think much of first time round. Andy Bell’s cover of Kate Bush’ “Breathing” is one highlight, as are both Glenn Gregory’s covers. And Heaven 17’s other fine vocalist Billy Godfrey gives Jimmy Somerville a run for his money on Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy.”
  • Carved Souls – Dismantle. It’s been a bit of a hit-and-miss year for Conzoom Records, but this overlooked sophomore album from Carved Souls is definitely my pick of their 2013 releases. The band compare themselves to Assemblage 23 and Apoptygma Berzerk, but personally I think Carved Souls have delivered an album that easily beats those band’s recent releases.
  • spacemarchTorul – Tonight We Dream Fiercely. Slovenia’s Torul have been around for a few years now but haven’t really impressed me much in the past. They’ve definitely nailed it with this infectious and hypnotic album though.
  • Space MarchMountain King. While Parralox took a breather this year with a covers album, Australia’s other great synthpop band gave us a delightful “symphonic journey of retro-electro, classical and dream pop.” Mr. Vince Clarke gave this album a big thumbs up and I’m fully in agreement! “Someone Something Sunshine” is a highlight;  bright but tinged with a little melancholy. “Mastermind of Crime” has some great lyrics, while “Too Much Time on my Hands” is a lovely bleepy bleep song.
  • Social Ambitions – Hunger. I do feel I miss out sometimes by not speaking Swedish, and a fair few of the songs on this synthpop album are sung in that language. But ultimately good songwriting will always win me over, and Hunger has much to offer. A few songs don’t quite hit the mark for me, but the ones that do I can easily listen to again and again.
  • henricHenric de la Cour – Mandrills. This album has been creeping up my play list for a while now, the more I listen to it to more I like. I’ve read about Henric’s struggle with a rare illness, and there’s certainly a slightly foreboding feel to this album. This is introspective synthpop at a superior level, but no matter what the circumstances behind its production it fully stands up on its own merits. Henric’s duet with Susanna Risberg on “Shark” is another contender for single of year, and if you’ve not seen it check out the wonderful video!
  • MarsheauxInhale. I’ve always been a bit more critical of Marsheaux than most of my synthpop peers, but all my complaints are finally undone with this excellent album: I think its their finest work to date. Everything comes together perfectly, from the sharp production and catchy tunes to the vocals and lyrics. Standout songs “Self Control“, “Come on Now” and “Inhale” prove that Marsheaux sound like they’re finally having some fun, and I reckon they’re all the better for it.
  • depecheLittle BootsNocturnes. It sounds like a lot of synthpop purists were disappointed with this album, but for me it’s one that I keep on going back to. Like Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Make a Scene album from a few years ago, it’s the sheer quality of the songs that overrides any modern pop messiness. If anything, Nocturnes is a more consistent affair than her debut Hands ever was: this is the perfect summer party album.
  • Depeche ModeDelta Machine. Well finally! It’s about time Depeche Mode released a good album again, and while there is a bit of bloat filling up this album it’s definitely their best – most electronic – album in years. Of course to some, Delta Machine might be a great blues album ruined by bleeps and squeaks, but at this point in the game any Depeche Mode album that has that spark of genius we know they’re capable of is something to be thankful for.


Top 10 Synthpop Albums

Ten great albums there – but here are my absolute favorites of the year!

Emika  Dva

emikaAfter her brilliant debut album, I thought things had gone awry for Emika with subsequent singles seeming a bit aimless and self-indulgent. So my expectations for DVA weren’t that great, and indeed the first track – an ominous orchestral number – made me think she’d gone the way of The Knife (i.e. up herself). How wrong I was though: since first listening, this album has really gotten under my skin, the sub-bass gone sub-dermal. DVA is an intense, maudlin experience, punctuated with uplifting resonance (“Dem Worlds“, “Sing To Me“) that highlight the superb sound design and production. You can keep your dubstep then: DVA is how I like to rattle my bones.


Noblesse Oblige  Affair of the Heart

noblesseAffair of the Heart is one of those pop albums that’s full of memorable songs. There may be a bit of live bass here and there, but this is most assuredly a synthpop record of the European kind. Highlights include the single “Runaway” (an unashamedly fun slice of synthpop), “Vagabonde” (Anne Pigalle-esque vocals to a disco beat and probably my favorite track on the album), and a cover of the Eagle’s “Hotel California” that, at eight-and-a-half minutes, never outstays its welcome and brings some appropriate electronic atmosphere (and Japanese koto strings) into the mix.



Covenant  Leaving Babylon

covenantI’ve been waiting for over 10 years for a worthy follow-up to 2002’s Northern Light. Both Skyshaper and Modern Ruin were OK albums, but both left me wanting. Now Leaving Babylon finally shows Covenant at their best: it’s full of broody scandi-synthpop, upbeat futurepop and pulsating electronic dance tracks. It may have taken a while to arrive in full on Spotify (I hate those “samplers” they completely ruin the flow of the album), but it was definitely worth the wait. Like VNV Nation, a Covenant song is always instantly recognisable; just this time it all gels together perfectly into one feature-length album that seems to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.


Pet Shop Boys  Electric

psbThe first of four “old order” artists on this list and what a fabulous surprise this album is! Last year’s Elysium album was about the dullest thing I’d heard all year, so I’d as good as written off the PSBs. But then the single “Axis” came out and I was bowled over. This is the Pet Shop Boys?? No way! A sublimely cool slice of pumping retro hi-NRG, it also acts as the perfect statement of intent as the album opener. Electric is a dance album through-and-through, even including Bruce Springsteen cover “The Last to Die.” Single “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct”  sounds like it was always a classic PSB song, while “The Last to Die” verges into VNV Nation territory. I honestly think this is the best album they’ve ever made!

Alison Moyet – The Minutes

alfAnother unexpected treat! Yazoo’s “reconnected” reunion tour a few years ago was an undoubted success, and it got me super-hyped for the possibility of some new material from Alf & Vince. That hasn’t happened (yet), but in a way that doesn’t matter: The Minutes is a magnificant return to elctronica, loaded with fabulous modern synthpop numbers (checkout “Filigree” for example). Collaborating with Guy Sigsworth has led to some of Moyet’s best-ever work: The Minutes fully deserves the acclaim its received in the mainstream press, and it was delightful to see Alison Moyet in the UK Top 10 Album charts again.


Karl Bartos – Off The Record

karlThe next-best thing to a new Kraftwerk album is always a new Karl Bartos album. And in the case of Off the Record, I seriously doubt Herr Hütter and current friends could have done much better. Although I tend to skip the opening track (and imo ill-advised lead single), from “Nachtfahrt” onwards this is just a glorious album. Playing out like an alternative The Mix, Off the Record feels like a Kraftwerk greatest hits package, with Karl expertly touching on the signature sound of Kraftwerk from Radioactivity onwards. It’s difficult to pick out favourites – so I won’t. Just start from Track 2 and enjoy this retro wonder of the future…


Northern Kind  Credible Sexy Unit

nkHere’s a band that’s very dear to my heart. For fans of the Vince Clarke-ian style of synthpop, a new album from Northern Kind will always be an event. From the off, Credible Sexy Unit lays down its template with “Yours“, a fantastic slice of jaunty sing-along synthpop. And taken as a whole, the songs that make up this album form exactly what you’d expect from Northern Kind: retro-amped chipper tunes, superlative singing, enduring song-writing, and a professional attitude that belies their indie sensibilities. Credible Sexy Unit will surely please any discerning synthpop fan, especially those seeking a bit of cheerful enlightenment. You can read my full review over at The Electricity Club!


CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

chvrchesWhat an amazing year it’s been for Chvrches. From the backwater streets of Glasgow to synthpop’s modern global megastars, this is the gateway band to persuade the masses about the joys of synthpop. Because what still astonishes me is that despite their now huge appeal, Chvrches are still 100% a synthpop band with an album-full of songs that I – single white male, wrong side of 40 – think are some of this year’s best musical treats (and I include the “blokey” songs in there too!) . All four superb singles are present and correct, as well as a host of achingly good tracks like “Science/Vision” , “Lungs” and “We Sink“. So aye, Chvrches eh: bloody hell, this is barry stuff but!


Vile Electrodes – The Future Through a Lens

vileMy most-anticipated album this year was always going to be the Vile Electrodes debut. It’s been over a two year wait, but boy was it worth it! On first listening, I found The Future Through a Lens surprisingly introspective and a little bit downbeat. But it’s not really a dance album: these songs demand attention and constantly reward careful listening.  Opening with a brilliant instrumental – a broody, John Carpenter-inspired number – the eleven songs that follow are all dazzlingly good synth songs. Lead vocalist Anais Neon controls the mic audaciously, dreamily crooning and weaving her way over the music. Highlights include “Drowned Cities” (which still reminds me of Front 242 but I think I’m alone there), “Proximity” (still superb despite its age), and the cybergasmically awesome “Damaged Software.” And album-closer “Deep Red” is surely the synthpop ballad of the year, a timeless epic that’s both melancholic and warmly optimistic.


OMD – English Electric

omdAs the decades roll by, most bands are never able to repeat their creative glory years and instead rely on royalties from Greatest Hits repacks to pay the bills. Not so Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. While 2010’s History of Modern was (and still is) a great album, it always felt like a last-gasp sing-a-long reunion with The Best of OMD. But now with English Electric they’ve proved that musical genius sometimes never fades. Since its release in April, I’ve given this album countless playthroughs and it’s still a joy every time. Some thumping synthwork lies within, backed up with Andy McCluskey on peak form. At least half this album instantly screams “OMD classic!” while the rest demonstrates the no-compromise attitude of old. With hints of the  musique concrète that smothered Dazzle Ships, there’s nonetheless no filler on English Electric: even the abstract “Atomic Ranch” serves as a perfect bridge to the final song. Synthpop fans could not have asked for anything more: English Electric is a crowning achievement in the OMD catalog and my absolute favorite album of the year.



And Finally

So where’s Feathers, you’re wondering? Or Marniemr. kittyMapsSoft Metals or VNV Nation? All good electronic releases, but none quite caught my attention like the ones I’ve listed above. The Sound of the Crowd album arrived too late to my ears to give it a proper listen, and the brilliant Kite still steadfastly refuse to release an album. Other opinions are of course available! Check out Softsynth‘s Best Electronic Albums of 2013 and of course The Electricity Club‘s 30 Songs of 2013.

In 2013, synthpop fans have never had it so good: and with Spotify I’ve gorged myself to the max! Happy Christmas everybody, see you next year.


Schmoof Interview 2013

To follow on from my retrospective article about Schmoof over on The Electricity Club, here is a brand-new interview with Schmoof!


schmoofcoverLloyd and Sarah Schmoof: it’s great to hear from you both again! When I interviewed you last you were just about to release your second album, The Glamour and preparing for a UK tour to promote it. That album turned out to be my favourite release of 2007, but I think a lot of your potential fanbase either didn’t “get it” or just weren’t ready for your brand of analogue synthpop, retro ZX Spectrum visuals, and latex (there was a lot of latex).

 Just a couple of years after Schmoof there was a huge resurgence and interest in electropop – do you think Schmoof were just around too early, or do you think you were just a little bit too different from your contemporaries?

L: When we first started gigging in 2000ish, we found it really hard to get gigs. All venues seemed to expect four dirty blokes playing guitar…

S: …and most sound engineers didn’t understand how to mix us!

L: So we started running our Warm Electro club nights at the Water Rats. If you go out to gigs now in London, there are many electro duos. So either we were too late for the early 80s electro era, or too early for the current one. I still believe that using proper synths is really important. Most electro bands these days just press ‘play’ on their laptop and pretend to twiddle knobs on their mixer that isn’t plugged in – it ain’t live.

What was important to us was writing catchy songs that were actually about something. A lot of electro music today is dance music with bland lyrics about love. Some people thought we were a joke band because there was a lot of wit in our lyrics. It didn’t feel like a joke for us; music is all about entertainment and making people happy.

S: In this way we were different from our contemporaries; we were serious about making music but we didn’t take ourselves too seriously and had fun with the song-writing process and the performance in particular. Some people just didn’t get that. A lot of the electro-pop around at that time was very ‘cool’, both in terms of the timbres used in the production process, the lyrics and particularly the aloof style of performance. In many ways we were the opposite of that, hence Warm Electro. Perhaps people would have understood us better now, with people like Lady Gaga around who have fun with their performance.


Which Schmoof song are you most proud of?

 S: I’m really proud of the whole of our second album, The Glamour. It realised our musical aims with Schmoof; it’s all essentially electro but it doesn’t all sound the same, for example Backseat Driver contains rock elements and Hayfever has a country’n’western vibe. I also think it contains some of our best songs. In terms of songwriting, I’m particularly proud of Northern Line.

L: Chocolate Boyfriend was the single. That got a lot of press including Single of the Week in The Sun, beating Robbie Williams! The song is really simple musically, it’s mostly two chords. But for the musos out there, there are some odd chords in the pre-chorus and the middle 8. It sounds like a clean mix, but there are lots of distorted synths buried in the mix to add dynamic contrasts between the sections. I’m also very proud of the final section of Backseat Driver where Sarah’s voice morphs. Sarah wasn’t about that day so I got a bit carried away. I spent a whole afternoon trying to get the perfect take by running her voice through some crazy wirings through filters and ring modulators on my System 100 and twiddling the knobs going to tape. These days I could program something similar in Logic in a couple of minutes, but that would lack challenge and you wouldn’t be able to get it as wild sounding.



 Any special Schmoofy memories or moments you cherish?

 L: All of it really. I was so proud of the quality of what we were producing without a major label budget. I also loved our live shows; most bands at the time just turned up and played their instruments but we tried to stamp our brand on the venue. We had striking outfits and our projections helped fill the stage – the ZX Spectrum was the third member of the band. And everyone got a schmoof sticker during the gig.

One gig that I remember was in Bedford (I think). We weren’t expecting anything special – just a small venue, probably half empty; small town mentality. The place was rammed full of teenage metallers who had come to see the local 6th form metal band that were supporting us. We didn’t think that these metalheads would be into us and they would probably just leave after their mates band had finished. They stayed and partied hard. They loved our music and we sold loads of CDs and sold out of T-shirts!

I think that our final gig, which was in London, was our best. We were really on it. It was a great venue in the heart of Hoxton chic; it was rammed. No-one knew it was our final gig except us.

 S: I think one of our best gigs was when we played Infest in Bradford. It was probably our biggest gig in terms of audience size – well over 1,000 I think – and it was one of the first times we had done a gig outside our home town of London and had several people calling out requests for our songs! That was a lovely feeling – we felt like proper pop stars for 20 minutes!


 Your album The Glamour seemed to make a sardonic comment on how life in a band might be anything BUT glamorous. What was the worst thing about touring? Worst gig?

Picture1L: In the early days there were some truly awful gigs. Small venues with limited sound systems. We were so dependent on the sound system because we didn’t have a drum kit and guitar amps. We did a lot of gigs in Glasgow. We know every inch of the M6!

Because all of our synths were analogue, in a live situation with hot lights shining on them, they always went out of tune. This was really hard to manage whilst still trying to make the gigs look effortless. The Roland SH 101 was the biggest culprit – sometimes it could be a few tones out of tune. It needed re-tuning for every song.

S: Yes when you’re a band releasing stuff on your own label, it aint that glam! I loved the gig part of touring but the travel and sleeping on random floors was tough. There’s a photo inside the album cover of us both lifting our massive super-heavy silver flight case, which contained most of our gear. We sometimes got to a venue and realised that we had to lift that flight case up four steep flights of stairs! But of course the worst bit was lifting it back down again at 6 in the morning when you are knackered and drunk! That bloody flight case…

One of our worst gigs (but also one of the funniest) was at a small club in Cornwall. We went on very late and the place was full of very drunk people. One audience member had to be held back by her boyfriend as she screamed rude names at me and a man asked me to sign his bottom when we came off stage! Bizarre…


What made you decide to call it a day with Schmoof?

S: We felt that we had taken it as far as we could. Our ultimate aim was to make music our entire life, so after The Glamour, when we were still having to support Schmoof through our day jobs, we decided not to continue. But I’m incredibly proud of everything we achieved and feel that we ended on a high with The Glamour.

L: And I wanted to surf more. Living in London was doing my head in.


What do you miss the most about being in a band?

L: Spending a lot of time with Sarah. We were so close as friends. We were so focused on the band. It was our lives – it was all we did. It’s really rewarding producing a product that people want to buy into. We did it all ourselves – we had no help from labels or management companies.

S: I agree that Lloyd and I became very close. Experiencing all the highs and lows of a band with one other person is very intense and we were like brother and sister. I really miss the song writing process – I would have loved to have written songs for other people but it is so hard to get a foot in the door. And I really miss playing live.


Any special Schmoof memorabilia you still have? What happened to the Schmoof synthesizers and home computers?

Picture2S: We still have the outfits! I haven’t tried them on since having children but I’ll probably keep them forever.

L: The synths are in my Dad’s attic or some of the better ones are lent out to musicians. It’s best that they get used because otherwise they stop working. Some of them are 40 years old now. If I were ever to record songs again, I would use the same studio gear. I see no reason to upgrade my Atari and my synths. I would like my music to sound individual – not like Logic Pro music as everything in the charts sounds like.


If you were to do it all again now, what (if anything) would you do differently?

L: Produce more records and sell them. Sometimes, I think we kept trying to make the music better instead of just getting it out there.

S: I would have spent less time trying to get a record deal/manager/agent and focussed on releasing our own records and building our label and fanbase gradually.


What did you make of all the female-fronted synthpop bands that came after Schmoof (La Roux, Little Boots, Ladyhawke etc.)?

L: Where are they now? They didn’t last long or do anything new. La Roux wrote some nice songs, but they aren’t classics that stand the test of time.

S: None of them quite worked for me. Of the three, I think Ladyhawke was best. I liked her voice but that’s probably because I love Stevie Nicks!


schmoofeotmcWhat music do you listen to now?

L: Daft Punk’s latest album is amazing. It sounds like proper music because they use proper analogue synthesisers; it doesn’t sound like it’s been recorded on Logic like everything else around at the moment. And Donna Summer’s disco stuff. Sarah and I listened to the 17 minute version of “Love To Love You Baby” last night.

S: I’ve always been a huge fan of 1980s pop music and still listen to all my old albums now. I rarely buy new stuff if I’m honest but recent stuff I’ve liked includes Arcade Fire, Janelle Monae and Haim. I wasn’t as convinced by Daft Punk’s latest album as Lloyd, although I did like ‘Get Lucky’ and was reminded how awesome Nile Rogers is – I’d kill for a career like his! I mentioned her earlier but I do love the humour and showiness of Lady Gaga. I also saw electro trio Midnight Juggernauts a couple of years ago and got really into their stuff.


What have you been up to recently? Do you still do anything music-related?

S: I’m now a mummy to two little boys! So my time is mostly spent running around after them. I’m also in the process of setting up my own business.

L: I run a music technology course. Some of my students go on to have chart success which is rewarding. I can hear stuff that I taught them in their recordings. I also surf most days. That is my new creative outlet.


 Any chances of a Schmoof reunion gig, or some solo material? Any unreleased Schmoof songs that might see the light of day sometime?

S: I’m afraid there won’t be any Schmoof reunion gigs. I did consider doing solo Sarah Schmoof stuff but I never find the time with two young kids and perhaps the moment has passed now (sob).

L: I have tapes and tapes (yes tapes, not mp3s stored on a computer) of Schmoof recordings that no-one will ever hear. The tapes have been in the attic for years – they might not even play now. It is good to reminisce about Schmoof – it’s been such a long time and has reminded me of another life. This has encouraged us to put the album up on YouTube with the original ZX Spectrum animations so people can see them on this modern thing called the internet.

Edinburgh Science Fiction Book Group – 10 Year Anniversary

The Edinburgh Science Fiction Book Group first met 10 years ago this month. Started by Joe Gordon (who now writes the blog for Forbidden Planet but at the time was a bookseller at Waterstone’s), the group’s remit is this:

We take it in turns to select books to discuss, with regulars getting a month each to pick out a book. The criteria is pretty flexible – we take in traditional SF, modern and classic, horror, fantasy, graphic novels and slipstream/speculative fiction works which may not be considered SF&F by many but do contain some SF elements. The main aspect really required in a choice is that it contains elements that will generate some discussion.

I joined in 2006 for the discussion of Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe Of Heaven. My first pick was a couple of months later, when I chose Under The Skin by Michel Faber. Since then, the dozen or so of us have read and discussed over 100 books, including:

  • Old-school classics by Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, John Wyndham;
  • Golden age classics by Alfred Bester, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Roger Zelazny, Philip K Dick, Olaf Stapledon;
  • Fantasy and New Weird by China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Gene Wolfe, Jeff VanderMeer, Diana Wynne Jones, George RR Martin, Lauren Beukes;
  • Hard SF by Greg Egan, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M Banks, Vernor Vinge, Kim Stanley Robinson, Hannu Rajaniemi, Greg Bear;
  • Contemporary SF by William Gibson, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, Ken MacLeod, Chris Beckett, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Tony Ballantyne, Hugh Howey, Tim Maughan, Paolo Bacigalupi;
  • Literary SF by Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Michael Chabon, Kazuo Ishiguro, Cormac McCarthy, Nick Harkaway;

For the 10th anniversary we had a little party and a survey to vote for our all-time favourite book group book and to highlight any particularly memorable books or book discussions.


Once all the votes were counted, the top three favourites were revealed to be the following:

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

This one (or four) book probably prompted the most chat, especially when we discussed “Books You Loved That Everyone Seemed to Hate.” Obviously there was a lot of love for this, although I must confess it wasn’t for me.

In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

I was especially pleased to see this one ranking so highly, as it was one of my own choices. I did worry that it would be a little bit far from the “robots & spaceships” choices I was known for, but as Kay said at the party:

There can’t be many SF groups that would enthusiastically contemplate a book about royal French mermaids. But we did, and most of us enjoyed it too! 

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

This fantastic and fantastical novel topped our poll, and it was one of the very few books I’ve given a 5-out-of-5 rating on Goodreads. Its post-war take on English folklore and legend wonderfully captured our imaginations


The Edinburgh Science Fiction Book Group meet at 7pm on the last Tuesday of every month at Henderson’s, where we find a table (and I find a glass of wine) then spend an hour or so discussing the month’s book pick.

Feel free to drop me a line if you fancy coming along, or check out our new blog!

Even More Favorite Albums of 2013

While waiting for albums from CHVRCHES, Covenant, Northern Kind, Vile Electrodes, and VNV Nation (all due this year!) here’s another selection of excellent electronica from the past month or two.



Iamamiwhoami – Bounty

Marnie – Crystal World

Pet Shop Boys – Electric

Slave Republic – Quest for Love

Zynic – Blindsided



Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

Pouppée Fabrikk – The Dirt

SIGNAL AOUT 42 – Inspiration



Phaxe – Calm Under Pressure

Shpongle – Museum of Consciousness

Benji Vaughan – Even Tundra

Ovnimoon – Trancemutation of the Mind

Nevarakka – The War Is on!



Eat Lights Become Lights – Modular Living

Warm Digits – Interchange

Five Years of Top 20 Albums

I’ve been posting “Best Albums of the Year” lists for some years now, originally on MySpace then on this site. Feeling all retrospective, I thought I’d put together a quick “list of lists” to help keep track of them all. Unfortunately some of the older lists have gone AWOL: Wayback Machine has a few snapshots of my old MySpace homepage, but alas the blog posts were not archived. Google’s cache does have a fragment, but only goes back to 2009. Still, there’s still five years of top albums to re-visit!


2005 – 2007

Top 10 lists posted on MySpace but now lost in the mists of time… I do remember my album of the year for 2007 though:


Damn I miss Schmoof!.


Top 10 Albums of 2008” – fragment retrieved from MySpace:

10. Vibrasphere – “Lungs of Life
09.  Deadmau5 – “Random Album Title
08.  Thermostatic – “Humanizer
07.  Ticon – “2AM
06.  The Presets – “Apocalypso
05.  Gentle Touch – “In Memory of Savannah
04.  Zeigeist – “The Jade Motel
03.  Padded Cell – “Night Must Fall
02.  Kelley Polar – “I Need You to Hold on While the Sky Is Falling”
01.  Parralox – “Electricity







.The Human League - Credo




  • Top 20 Synthpop Albums of 2013 – coming in December!